Walk the talk, practice what we preach, leading by example; the ultimate advice for leaders involved in change processes. And nothing less than a personal principle of mine. And so, time came to put into practice what I ‘preach’ about leadership and (change) management.
New assignment: interim leadership
A new assignment, and not just any. Since 2005 I have shared all kinds of theories and insights about leadership with boards, managementteams and individual managers: based on the work of Argyris, Bateson, Covey, Jung, Kahane, Lencioni, Ofman, Senge, Sinek, Snowden, Thomas & Kilmann, Whitmore, Wilbur…the list is endless. Nonetheless, there was always a nagging doubt in the back of my mind about never having been a leader myself.
Since February 2014 I am a manager of a team of professionals. This department is in the midst of a re-structering, with a rapidly growing amount of customers in a dynamic, political climate. Exactly the challenge I need to finally walk my own talk.
Three lessons I have learned so far
Walk the talk .. and adjust, listen, learn while walking
Not unexpectedly I learned that practice is more unyielding than theory. Context and internal processes change continuously. Especially the people (including myself!) are everything but consistent. It is a matter of constant giving meaning and being prepared to alter stories or decisions. Experimenting, trying, daring to shift gear are more needed than holding on to well thought-out strategies. The relentless reality, so I found out, calls for quick learning loops and the ability to admit mistakes.
Moreover, as a manager you have different roles, sometimes all at once. You are a director, entrepreneur, sometimes a coach. This requires self reflection and flexibility. Next to that, we as managers should be able to acknowledge the roles less comfortable and collaborate with others who are more adequate.
However, I’d like to comment that in practice it’s not that easy to get feedback. As an employer it isn’t a given to give feedback to a superior. The leader has to personally gain a certain level of trust and frequently ask for the feedback. In my case it took longer than I expected before my team members openly shared remarks about my performances.
Leading by example…yet create a good give and take balance
In my experience we should put the role of a leader into perspective. It is, after all, the team that achieves results. A manager who takes up too much space might result in employees who ‘wait and see’.
At the same time, managers might have the tendency to underestimate their own impact. When we talk about the change we wish to create, for instance. What words do we use? Do we radiate faith and certainty? Are we open to other options when our views are strong? How do we react when colleagues publicly disagree?
During this interim job I’m experiencing for the first time what I actually do when I want something and have it all worked out. More fulfilling and succesful were the times when I shared what was still to be examined, what we didn’t know or what I needed.
Meetings: an excellent chance to put preaching into practice
Boring? Just talk? In many organizations meetings are seen as a dull obligation. Good meetings are rare. The agenda is overloaded. Meetings however are the moment when a team comes together, where ‘it’ should happen: chemistry, creativity, inspiration. Inform, exchange, decide, share feelings or learn. Not only in the coffee corner, but when the whole team is together. Simple right? Or not….
I try to have the goal of my meeting in mind. I also distribute different roles within the meeting to create a shared responsibility for its success. Regular check-in or reflection afterwards helps.